Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, October 15, 2021

Four Things

1. Over at In the Pipeline, Derek Lowe discusses a paper whose authors are taking a new approach to treating Lyme disease -- by looking for an antibiotic that might treat the infection more specifically while sparing the gut microbiome:

The authors conducted a screen in soil actinomycetes, which as they note are a pretty well-studied source of antibiotics -- but not so much for really selective ones, because that's not where the focus has been, historically. And they uncovered a compound that's been known since the 1950s, hygromycin A (also known as totomycin). To the best of my knowledge, it's never been developed for human use, because it was not seen to be especially potent against panels of common disease organisms. But it does hit B. burgdorferi and several other spirochetes, interestingly, while having much lower activity against common gut bacteria.
The paper goes on to suggest that the compound could also be used to tamp down the presence of the disease in the wild.

2. Twitter recently updated the behavior of its site in a most unhelpful manner: If you keep multiple tabs open in your browser, leaving Twitter's tab and then returning to it results an a very irritating page refresh -- causing you to lose your place and wiping out any Tweet you might have been composing.

Shortly after, I found a better place to compose: Twitter Character Counter. (Fellow Emacs users can find similar functionality without having to use a web browser here. (HT: Mark Gardner))

3. Speaking of useful web sites, GeekPress links to a discussion thread titled, "What useful unknown website do you wish more people knew about?" As he warns, it is a rabbit hole, but I quickly found several I could use, not including the above.

4. Scrimmaging with my son's soccer team the other day reminded me that, as I approach codgerdom, I might want to look into "walking football." My brother sent me the link to the YouTube video above, which I found to be a hybrid of the somewhat Monty-Pythonesque and -- as you might expect from the cultural reference -- worth filing away for later. Skip through the first five minutes or so to see a couple of English teams playing.

-- CAV

It's Not That 'Mayor Pete' is an Amateur...

Thursday, October 14, 2021

... it's that he accepted Mission Impossible.

An article in The Hill dings the Transportation Secretary and the President by implication for poorly handling the current spate of shortages and supply chain issues that started during the pandemic and have only worsened.

I am no fan of Pete Buttigieg or Joe Biden, but this line of criticism is neither fair nor accurate: There is no such thing as a person or even a government that is "qualified" to run an entire economy, and the whole idea is ridiculous. I have quoted the economist George Reisman on this numerous times before, and I'll do it again:

Image by U.S. Dept. of Transportation, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
The overwhelming majority of people have not realized that all the thinking and planning about their economic activities that they perform in their capacity as individuals actually is economic planning. By the same token, the term "planning" has been reserved for the feeble efforts of a comparative handful of government officials, who, having prohibited the planning of everyone else, presume to substitute their knowledge and intelligence for the knowledge and intelligence of tens of millions, and to call that planning. (as quoted in Andrew Bernstein's Capitalist Manifesto, p. 345) [bold added]
This is in no way intended to let Buttigieg or Biden off the hook: They subscribe to the incorrect view that government can run the economy and to the morally bankrupt view that it should, overriding our individual judgement and our freedom in the process.

It was this anti-freedom notion that led to the disgraceful and disastrous combination of "lockdowns," redistribution, and inflation (but I repeat myself) here and abroad that threw numerous monkey wrenches into the world economy in the first place. These immediately caused obvious problems; the current shortages are knock-on effects of those, and will not be helped by more rights-violating and heavy-handed attempts to "fix" them by the likes of Buttigieg or Biden.

It is for those things that we should roundly condemn the Democrats (and any Republicans who attack them on the grounds of "incompetence"), while offering the superior alternative of freedom -- rather than merely carping that a small town mayor can't solve all our problems, as if any central planner could.

-- CAV

Why Leftists Don't Know Conservative Positions

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Washington Times editorial staff complain via this title, "Why don't liberals [sic] know what conservatives believe?"

That's a fair question, but I think they need some help with understanding the confusion -- especially after making themselves sound so like leftists (or worse) in the process.

Let's look at their two examples, but in reverse order.

Take the issue of school choice. The piece correctly complains that opponents of school choice see the whole idea as a racist plot to deny decent educations to poor, black, inner-city children:

Scylla and Charybdis, aka The Left and the Right in Modern America. (Image by A. H. Payne, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
Moving to the second tweet, University of North Carolina-educated Nikole Hannah-Jones of 1619 Project fame wrote last week, "Why do 'school choice' advocates never advocate eliminating school district boundaries/funding schools by local property tax and allowing poor, Black students to attend white, wealthy schools in neighboring municipalities? They don't really want choice, just privatization."

As Hannah-Jones would have quickly discovered if she bothered to read the replies to her tweet, many conservatives have advocated for this policy for years... [bold added]
Such a step might be good, as a step towards making parents best able to choose schools for their own children -- but that's only because privatization is the way to achieve meaningful choice, via competition.

But the Times leaves off that meaningful qualification. (Chance to engage minds? Lost.)

I haven't heard a conservative make a point like that in a long time. In fact, now that I consider this reply, it reminds me of so many times in the past when some craven conservative -- faced with some false widows and orphans will be thrown to the streets-type accusation -- quickly backed off with the equivalent of, Oh, no! I'm not a capitalist at all!

But at least on that issue, one can imagine that some conservatives are at least trying to smuggle a modicum of freedom into a horrible system that we're stuck with for the foreseeable future...

On abortion, there is no room for such hope, which is a shame because that's an issue the left is actually correct about, except for its statist method of funding it. Take a gander at what the Times has to say about the oblivious leftists wondering why anti-abortion states don't force men to pay child support (including pre-natal medical bills) to the mothers of their unwanted children:
[A]nyone with even a passing familiarity with the pro-life [sic] movement would know that conservatives are perfectly fine with forcing men to pay for the pregnancies of women they impregnate. In fact, the state of Utah, a deep-red state with a Republican Legislature and Republican governor, passed a law doing exactly that earlier this year! Yet Ioffe is completely clueless about this conservative viewpoint. [bold added]
Wow. This makes the government forcing me to pay for someone else's abortion look positively humane and borderline capitalist compared to the enslavement of a woman and a man to the not-yet-living that the Times here is asserting as a conservative position.

This radical capitalist/classical liberal will offer his two-part answer to the question above.

First, one can forgive the left for part of the confusion -- which is still shared even by many who think of themselves as conservatives: Conservatives themselves used to at least pretend to be pro-freedom and pro-capitalist. Hell, some of them actually were, to an extent.

Second, the left is so rabidly anti-capitalist they can't even think straight when the idea of ideological opposition rears its head: Voice a desire for school choice or anything that sounds vaguely free-market and you'll probably be called or thought of as racist, as wrong as that is.

The left routinely smears all its opponents, and many of those doing the name-calling -- thoroughly indoctrinated by a school system conservatives won't even discuss abolishing -- believe their own propaganda. What a surprise!

I was merely disappointed by the school choice concession, but I am appalled by that We're way ahead of you on your child support idea! That one reminds me of when conservatives claimed to support both economic freedom and the draft, as if they thought you could own your wallet, but not your own life.

Thanks, Washington Times, for clearing the air, I guess. At least, this time, you're being honest.

-- CAV

PFAS: The Latest Moral Panic

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Over at RealClear Markets, David Clement of the Consumer Choice Center cautions against legislation in Congress purporting to regulate PFAS, a class of compounds with a variety of uses in industry.

He takes a recent rant by British talk show host John Oliver as his point of departure:

The issue with the "one size fits all" approach, advocated by Oliver and being pushed by Congress, is that this fails to appropriately address the hazards and risks presented by each of the 5000 chemicals that fall under the classification of PFAS. This is an important distinction, because the risk that PFAS presents for human health largely depends on how humans are exposed to these chemicals. [link omitted]
I oppose government regulation of industry and will note here that the dumping of C8 Clement cites would have been dealt with by better respect for and enforcement of property rights -- if not preempted altogether.

That said, we are likely decades away from any substantial or meaningful repeal of such regulations. Given that fact, I agree with Clement that whatever regulations there are should be as scientifically sound and well-considered as possible:
In a regulatory state, other people's panic can be hazardous to your health. (Image by Andrey Metelev, via Unsplash, license.)
For example, some of these chemical compounds are vital for contamination-resistant gowns and drapes, implantable medical devices, stent grafts, heart patches, sterile container filters, needle retrieval systems, tracheostomies, catheter guide wire for laparoscopy and inhaler canister coatings. To declare all these chemical compounds hazardous, without evaluating the risk associated with each use, puts lifesaving medical technologies in jeopardy and patient safety at risk. In fact, Congressman Larry Bucshon, who was a heart surgeon, criticized the PFAS Action Act for failing to include a revision that would exempt PFAS use in medical devices, stating that the bill in its current form would jeopardize access to life-saving drugs. [link omitted, bold added]
As with other bogeymen -- single-use plastics and fossil fuels immediately come to mind -- we have some small, ignorant, and vocal part of the population zeroing in on a real or imagined hazardous side-effect of a great innovation and -- apparently completely oblivious to any benefits that innovation might bring -- essentially trying to do away with it.

I am grateful to Clement for calling attention to this latest example.

-- CAV

Build Back Cheaper and Faster Without NEPA

Monday, October 11, 2021

If you ever wondered why every other country in the world but ours seems to be able to build things, wonder no more...

At City Journal is an article by Congressman David Schweikert (R-AZ) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) about the negative regulatory impact (to understate it) that a Nixon-Era environmental regulation has had on our energy sector:

Hoover Dam was completed in less than half the time it took to approve work on a short stretch of Interstate 70. Image by Nathan Roser, via Unsplash, license.)
Fifty years since [the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)] was signed into law, the process has become a bureaucratic nightmare. The latest data show that completing an [Environmental Impact Study] takes four and a half years, on average. One-quarter of the statements take upward of six years. Some projects drag on even longer: the approval process for a 12-mile expansion of Interstate 70 in Denver took 13 years to complete, with a final impact statement running 8,951 pages (not including an additional 7,307 pages of appendices).

Before NEPA, projects could be completed quickly. Congress authorized the damming of the Colorado River in 1928; construction began in 1931, and the Hoover Dam was opened five years later. The federal government approved the Golden Gate Bridge in just seven months. The NEPA process would have rendered the swift completion of these projects impossible. [bold added, links omitted]
Thirteen years to approve a short stretch of a road versus less than five years from start to finish for the Hoover Dam!

If the Biden Administration were serious about improving American infrastructure, it would at a minimum consider rolling back or eliminating NEPA altogether, or perhaps even enacting the reforms Schweikert and Lee propose. (This is the first I've heard of them, so I haven't an opinion on their merits.)

If our infrastructure is worth spending $3.5 trillion on, then surely making that money go farther and the improvements faster deserve serious consideration.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, October 08, 2021

Blog Roundup

1. If you're not up to speed on Biden's plan to treat American parents like terrorists even as he surrenders to real ones, mosey on over to C. Bradley Thompson's Ed Watch Daily blog.

There, you will find what he calls a kind of multi-media essay about the attempt to crush dissent against the racist dogma of Critical Race Theory that government schools have been indoctrinating children with:

More fundamentally, what [Attorney General Merrick] Garland's letter is really saying is that the federal government is entirely responsible for the education of your children. You have no rights and no authority to determine the content of your child's mind. That is for the government to determine. Your old-fashioned view that your children are actually your children is no longer relevant. If you think I'm exaggerating, you should listen to Melissa Harris-Perry talk about why your children are not your children:

Merrick Garland's directive may very well be the single most disturbing abuse of government power in American history since the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. Garland, a man once nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States, has corrupted the mission and power of the United States Department of Justice. He must be removed from office. He is a threat to both the lives and freedoms of ordinary Americans.
This is very long, but worth your time, even if it might take several visits.

2. At the blog for the Texas Institute for Property Rights, Brian Phillips argues that "It's Always Time to Be Greedy" as he discusses the injustice of pandemic-excused violations of the property rights of landlords.

Within is the following real-life counterexample -- with cogent rationale -- to the idiotic stereotype of the landlord simply raising rent through the roof for the hell of it:
As a landlord, I have not raised rents during the pandemic, even though several of my properties are currently renting for significantly less than the market rate. While I never relish a vacancy, I am even less enthusiastic about trying to rent a house under the conditions we have been enduring. An increase in rent of 20 percent or more would significantly increase cash flow. However, it would take close to ten months to recover the cost of a make-ready and the income lost during the vacancy. From a business perspective, I have decided that it makes more sense to retain tenants rather than possibly lose them by greatly increasing rents. By doing what I think is best for me and my business, I am being greedy.
It always is time to be greedy: If only more voters thought longer-range at the ballot box. If they did, they might realize that such measures as rent controls and eviction moratoriums ultimately threaten the supply of affordable housing by causing that business to become more of a burden every day.

3. Over at Thinking Directions, Jean Moroney explains a way to catalyze dramatic change that she calls the Pierced-Ears Principle. The post analyzes what she observed after making a small improvement on two different occasions, and lists the following as what seemed important each time:
a) The improvement was permanent. Once you pierce your ears, the earrings stay in for 10 weeks. Once you buy a new table, it's there in the room every day.

b) The improvement was obvious. I saw the earrings in the mirror each morning. We saw the table in the living room.

c) The improvement made familiar things look worse by contrast. My hair looked bad with earrings. Clutter looked bad on the table.

d) There was always one obvious next improvement to make -- never an overwhelming number.
I have a couple of big changes I want to make at home, and I'm seriously thinking about finding an "ender" -- a small change like Moroney describes -- to use as a way to motivate myself, as well as to get my wife and kids on board to pitch in.

4. Over at How to Be Profitable and Moral, Jaana Woiceshyn urges corporations to avoid the tar-baby known by the trendy name of "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR):
CSR is an invalid concept because it is what Ayn Rand called "a package-deal:" it packages together "disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context." Mixing of contradictory elements makes a concept such as CSR hazardous to thinking. While including elements that enhance human flourishing, such as respecting others' individual rights (not polluting their property), efficiency (waste reduction), and profit making, CSR also sneaks in the ideal of altruism, the duty to serve others "to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm."

The CSR package-deal diverts corporate executives' focus from the proper role of business: producing and trading material values -- on which our lives, well-being, and prosperity depend. If the executives accept CSR as an ideal, they will be always questioning the morality of the profit motive, earning unearned guilt from pursuing profits, and making attempts to divert the corporation's (the shareholders') resources to "social" and "environmental" causes. [link in original]
CSR might seem like a way to name good business practices that is good for public relations, but it is indeed a trap.

-- CAV

Walter Block on the FDA

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Walter Block has written a piece calling for the abolition of the FDA and its replacement "with a free enterprise certification industry."

I would criticize the piece as being far from strongly-worded enough: the agency blatantly violates our rights to our own bodies, particularly the freedom to decide which medicines or foods to consume; its dithering -- most notably on rapid antigen tests -- during this pandemic arguably led to hundreds of thousands dying; and its stifling of medical innovation is a big part of why medical science produces innovation at a far slower and less earth-shattering rate than Silicon Valley does for communications technology.

That said, the piece contains a hit and a miss I wish to comment on here. First, the hit:

Image by Volodymyr Hryshchenko, via Unsplash, license.
If there are five [certification] private agencies, and one of them errs, it will tend to lose customers, followers, and go bankrupt. This would leave room for the expansion of the other four in this industry and for the entry of newcomers. Another advantage is that five heads are better than one. Then there is the fact that when the FDA fails there is no automatic mechanism that replaces error-prone scientists with better ones.
This is true: We would not only be free to judge and try medicines and treatments for ourselves, we would have better guidance when deciding whether to do so.

And the miss?
There is of course one objection to free enterprise in this regard: a private certification agency might be paid off by unscrupulous business interests in order to buy a good report. Yes, of course, this is a danger. But the government, too, it not totally immune from such corruption. Also, any private firm caught putting its thumb on one side of the balance would immediately go bankrupt. Not so for the FDA, if ever its paw was caught in the cookie jar.
I looks like the FDA's paw might have just been there, as I noted recently, and not only won't the FDA go down (unless we abolish it), it may well drag the whole idea of standards down the toilet.

Until and unless our society outgrows its childish suspicion of selfish interest -- in the forms of (a) a lack of confidence in our own minds to choose wisely and (2) the assumption that others will stoop to the level of criminals if given half a chance -- we will never rid ourselves of the FDA or any other agency that exists for the alleged purpose of protecting us from ourselves or the businessmen we trade with (and yet so many lazily assume are predatory).

-- CAV